At the beginning of 2013, I signed up once more for the AWW Challenge, at the Franklin level – which was to read at least 10 and review at least 6 books by Australian women. I usually sign up as reading a mix, rather than a single genre, though of course usually I get into fantasy and horror.
Looking at my Goodreads stats, I read 37 books in 2013. As usual, that included a number of PG Wodehouse books, some classic Christie, a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories written people other than Conan Doyle, and a number of non-fiction titles. I read quite a few autobiographies by British comedians, including Miranda Hart’s Is It Just Me? and Jack Dee’s Thanks for Nothing.
I’m pleased that I did indeed meet my Franklin level goal, and in fact reviewed 11 of the books by Australian women. I covered a range of genres, too: fantasy, horror, crime, romance and biography.
My first book of the challenge was Leonie Norrington’s The Barrumbi Kids, and the review still gets a lot of hits and sometimes comments – mostly from kids who are hoping I’ll answer their essay questions for them. Sorry. Nope. Read the book, little humans, and find out for yourself.
Judith Lucy’s Drink, Smoke, Pass Out was the first of many biographies by comedians I read in 2013, but the only Australian in that crowd. She and the Brits I read are all on the self-deprecating, wry end of the scale, but Lucy had a kind of embarrassed optimism to it that really liked.
I got in two books by Mary Borsellino this year – YA fantasy Ruby, Coral Carnelian and erotic romance A Brighter Spark. She’s had more erotic romance published with Clan Destine last year too, and I’m chuffed as anything that we now share a publisher!
I’m a bit behind in some series, so I only got to Tansy Rayner Roberts’ The Shattered City (second of the Power and Majesty books) in 2013, and the third book in the series is in my Kindle for this year. The first two were brilliant, so I’m looking forward to finishing the trilogy! I did get onto Paula Weston’s Haze, sequel to Shadows, in good time thanks to the publisher sending me a review copy. The series is shaping up well, and it’s nice to see a broad-sweeping fantasy set in Australia.
A particular joy and surprise was Julie Bozza’s The Fine Point of His Soul, a subtle horror story featuring the poets Shelley, Keats and Byron and cleverly written in a 19th century Gothic horror voice that rings true and not of pastiche.
Carolyn Morwood’s Cyanide and Poppies had murder and mystery in the midst of the 1923 Melbourne police strike, and taught me quite a bit about my city’s history that I hadn’t known before, just like the first in the series, Death and the Spanish Lady. I’m looking forward to a third story with Eleanor Jones, former nurse and now journalist and, sometimes, detective.
In horror, both Felicity Dowker’s Bread and Circuses and Kirstyn McDermott’s Caution: Contains Small Parts were superb. Australian horror writers are doing some amazing work right now, and these two writers are among our very best.
It was also a great pleasure to get hold of classic Australian author Helen Garner in her short story collection, Postcards from Surfers. I might not have thought to read it, but my husband bought me the Penguin edition as a ‘thinking of you gift’ – and I’m so glad he did. It’s good to use this challenge as a prompt to find older books to expand one’s reading.
I read other books by Australian women that I didn’t review. I read books by Australian men that were terrific (especially Jason Franks’ Bloody Waters, which I keep recommending to people, but also Jason Nahrung’s Salvage and a few more of John Marsden’s Tomorrow series). I read biographies and crime and a Bill Bryson travel diary, and a collection of class short stories that my father gave me and at long last Gail Carriger’s Soulless (and I’m looking forward to more in that series too.)
As much as I love the AWW Challenge, I’ve decided not to sign up this year. Not because I don’t intend to continue reading a diverse range of books, including those by Australian women, but because my only reading challenge this year is to finally read all the books in my shelf of paperbacks/hardcovers, some of which have been in that ‘to read’ pile for two or three years. I have When We Were Kittens down as the first to start on, but there’s quite an array there, including fiction and non-fiction. The books by Australian women sitting there include Behind the Shock Machine by Gina Perry, Lost & Found by Robyn Annear, Jay Ford’s Beyond Fear and three SF short story collections from Fablecroft that are edited by women.
There are 24 books all up on that shelf, and I will be trying very hard not to buy any more paperbacks (well, except those coming out with the Twelve Planets series!).
It’s going to be a good year!
Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.